I recently attended the Early Stage East venture conference. Amongst all of the great presenting companies, ESE had a few panels on a variety of topics. I had the chance to sit in and listen to the Emerging Media Technologies panel discussion. On the panel were:
- Matt Goddard of R2Integrated;
- Jeff Pulver of 140Conf;
- Steven Rosenbaum of Magnify.net; and
- Yuli Ziv of Style Coalition and MyItThings.com.
The panel did a great job discussing, among other things, the use of social media and how it drives customer behavior and markets. Many great points were made by the panel members, but in particular a small piece of the conversation left a mark with me – that is, the difference between an authentic use of social media in a business versus a strategy lacking in depth. In every market and industry, you’ll find companies that can identify trends and jump on the bandwagon quickly, however some of these companies do so in a manner that fails the “genuine” test. Take for example the iphone app space. As soon as iphone apps were a consistent sound byte in print and online, almost all of the marketing and creative agencies had verticals up on their websites about how well equipped they were to help out clients in the iphone app space and in marketing through the iphone app platform. Many of these agencies lacked the core strengths to really perform in this area. Nevertheless, they adopt the attitude of “fake it til you make it.” In the end, however, if you dig deep enough you’ll see whether or not those core strengths really exist or are themselves just marketing.
I’ve seen some of the same patterns in the use of social media and social networking in business-to-consumer models. The social media tactics applied by some companies are vapid and superficial. Creating a facebook page or a twitter account alone does not a social media strategy make. That model looks no different to me than the marketing and creative agencies above. A company claims to understand social media, but a deep dive into their strategy shows a shallow attempt. Social media needs to deliver real value – if it doesn’t then you come off looking like a poser and it cheapens other real marketing efforts you undertake. Having a lot of Facebook fans on your company Facebook site doesn’t amount to much unless you find a way to further engage and convert those fans.
After the conference, I came across two articles that I thought demonstrated a strategic use of social media and gave great examples of companies that had a value proposition behind their social media strategy:
- “Fashion Retailer Responds to Facebook Fans’ Call for ‘Real Women’ in Photos” – (article on Mashable.com) as demonstrated in this article, LOFT (a brand owned by Ann Taylor Inc.) had posted pictures of a model in a new pair of pants on its Facebook page with a click-through link to purchase. Facebook fans posted comments that they wanted to see the pants on a “real woman”. Apparently the model did not fit the customer’s definition of everyday normal “real women.” In days of old, such comments would have been a short conversation between two women over a phone or in a retail aisle - both commenting on a catalog or other picture. Now, however, through the use of social media, that comment is delivered in real time directly to the retailers’ doorstep. So far, this example could still fall clearly in the marketing and creative agency example above – a lone Facebook page with no other social media strategies. But no, it does not end there. LOFT employees were paying attention and the next day they posted pictures of those same pants but modeled by women who work at LOFT and that ranged in both height and weight. Customers were ecstatic and they said so on the Facebook site. What a wonderful use of social media as a way to connect with customers in ways not seen to date. Congrats to LOFT for giving us a great example of how social media can deliver real results.
- “Playing Marketing Games on Twitter” – (article on Inc.com) this article talked about Peninsula Shops, a web-based community portal that runs a Twitter-based game in which it asks daily trivia questions regarding local companies that are paying clients of Peninsula. For a monthly or annual membership fee, Peninsula uses Facebook, Twitter and its own website to drive traffic to its clients (and not just online traffic, but actual foot traffic also). It manages these programs for its clients because most clients are owner operated and don’t have the bandwidth to manage social media strategies. Many of these clients are also competing against larger retailers and are looking for a way to differentiate their product offering from the larger, big box retailers. Proper use of a social media strategy is the key for some of these clients. The Twitter trivia questions in one instance increased the traffic to a client’s website by 400% in just a few hours. The customers that correctly answer the trivia questions win prizes and so participation in the trivia games is high. Some of these questions keenly require customers to go to the store. Lon Safko, CEO of Innovative Thinking, a social media consulting company, said “what’s special about Peninsula’s approach is that it has created a level of brand engagement, which is rare.” And isn’t that really what it is all about – using social media to engage your customers in ways previously unknown.
What’s the take-away here? Have a real social media strategy in place. Throwing up a Facebook page and Twitter account does not amount to a social media strategy. Use social media to engage your customers at a level previously impossible - LOFT is a great example of this concept. Figure out the value proposition of your social media strategy. Monitor it. Track the results of your strategy. Polish it and modify as necessary. But most importantly, avoid a strategy that is static. Go for dynamic!
Chris McDemus is founder of VC Deal Lawyer, a blog devoted to providing insights on start-ups and emerging growth companies. Chris is also founder and owner of MCD Law Partners, LLC, a boutique corporate law firm serving start-ups, early-stage and emerging growth and middle market companies.